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Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Mathilda Malt Report: Yoichi 26 year old 1987 SMWS 116.20

In honor of my daughter's third birthday, I'm hauling out a bunch of fun oldies this week. Leading off, is the sort of whisky I will likely never try again. And frankly we may never see something of its sort during our lifetimes. A 26 year old Yoichi.

Yoichi is my favorite Japanese distillery (though Yamazaki is welcome to fight for the number 1 spot once they start releasing properly aged single malts again). Less than four years ago, finding a 15 or 20 year old officially bottled Yoichi wasn't that difficult nor horribly expensive. Though, at the time I thought $120 for the 15yo was a bit too steep. Now it's $400+. Today's whisky is not bottled by the distillery's owners, Nikka, rather it was bottled by the Scotch Malt Whisky Society. According to whiskybase, SMWS is the only independent bottle to have released any Yoichis. This was their 20th, and possibly last, bottling of the Hokkaidō malt.

I received this sample from the very generous Teemu of Whisky Science during a sample swap. More on his take below.

Distillery: Yoichi (SMWS 116)
Ownership: Nikka
Region: Hokkaidō, Japan
Independent Bottler: Scotch Malt Whisky Society
'Quirky' name: Fascinating complexity and finesse
Age: 26 years (November 7, 1987 - 2014)
Maturation: virgin oak puncheon
Cask#: 116.20
Bottles: 452
Alcohol by Volume: 61.6%
Chillfiltered? No
Caramel Colorant? No

Its color is maple syrup with maroon highlights. Longest legs I've ever seen on a whisky. It adheres to the glass. The nose is oh, oh dear. Fresh tobacco, dark chocolate and elegant Yoichi peat. Some spicy oak notes that sniff a little like mizunara rather than American oak. With time it develops vanilla bean, fresh peaches and National Distillers-style butterscotch. The palate makes the nose's elegance seem like pretense. Intense sooty peat meets barbecue ribs. Apricots and plums. Ginger, cinnamon, green grapes and a hint of cream soda. It starts to get a little old-bourbony after 30+ minutes. It's pretty hot throughout. More of the gigantic peating in the finish. Then chili peppers, citrus and a little bit of chocolate malt.

Going a little easy on the water here due to the whisky's age.

WITH WATER (~50%abv)
Somehow the nose gets malty. It becomes sootier too. Then smoked tea, cocoa powder, honey and caramel sauce. Less peat, more hot peppers in the palate. Less alcohol heat. Lots of aromatic baking spice. Fresh ginger and a pinch of Laphroaigy iodine. It finishes with smoked tea, butterscotch and more of that pepper.

This whisky was a fascinating experiment by Nikka and a bold choice by SMWS. Twenty-six years in new oak could have resulted in something foul. But it didn't. The nose is fantastic, probably a top ten favorite for me, detailed and graceful. Meanwhile the palate flexes that big ABV, unloaded baskets of character. I wondered about that virgin oak cask while nosing the whisky. There were notes to it that are familiar from European, American and Japanese oak. Turns out, Teemu had a similar question:

The American oak possibility seems more likely the longer one lets the whisky air out. More vanilla, caramel and butterscotch eases out. I'm guessing many of those other mystery notes come from a well-matured complex spirit.

Overall, the nose wins the day. The palate may improve a bit with water, but then the nose starts to lose its charm. But it's a hell of a whisky. It'll also set you back $2000-$2500 if you can find it. If you think that price is egregious, just consider that most versions of Pappy Van Winkle 23 sell for more than that in the secondary market. A bargain!

Availability - Happy Hunting!?
Pricing - $2000-$2500
Rating - 91

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